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So, like probably everyone else, I’m playing Starcraft 2.

And, like probably every other WoW guild out there, people are drying up at a phenomenal rate.

I’m left to wonder, is the only thing that can steal playtime away from WoW, another Blizzard game? Well, to be fair you see this quite often when a new, quality triple A game on the PC is released. Usually it’s a Bioware game stealing some of the thunder – Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age… this time, it’s a Blizzard game, and Starcraft 2 is, with little doubt in my mind, going to cause a pretty sharp drop in WoW players online concurrently for quite some time. Depending how many of them embrace online play, the drop may be more permanent and significant.

The biggest threat, then, to World of Warcraft seems to me won’t necessarily be another MMO, but simply another quality multiplayer PC game. And very specifically, Diablo 3. D3 will offer much of the simple pick up and play co-operative gameplay that WoW offers in it’s current badge-farming heroic intancing, which I’d guess makes up a good bulk of what people do in the game at the level cap. Sure raiding happens too, but is it the real focus of WoW gamers? Most of us spend more time gearing for raids than actually raiding. And, sure, PVP is a fun enough distraction, but BG’s are something to do in short bursts, and arenas are the domain of a very small minority of WoW’s subscriber base.

Personally I think Starcraft 2 might offer superior PVP multiplayer gameplay within a ‘massive’ environment, and Diablo3 will scratch the itch that the other half has, in co-operative dungeon crawling. As much as Blizzard mentions it doesn’t see SC2 and D3 as competition to WoW… I really think they are.

How does starcraft 2 itself play, I might hear you ask. My initial impressions are highly favourable. This game exudes polish in a quantity I don’t think I have seen before. The closest would be to liken it to Mass Effect 2 in terms of sheer quality of design. The engine itself is spectacular, the gameplay is classic Starcraft, and the higher focus on exposition and storyline between missions is superb. Hard to say if this is the best game ever, I don’t think it’s perfect, but it’s damn near. If you have a PC, this is simply a must buy, whether you’re an RTS fan or not so much.

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I’ve been playing Final Fantasy for a few days now. As a generic working Joe who still raids a lot of WoW, squeezing time in between all of it to play a bit of Xbox or whatever can, as you imagine, become something of a challenge. So while probably the slew of people who bought the game already are undoubtedly way, way ahead of me, I’m still largely trundling through the tutorial.


Vanille. Only Square does ‘impossibly cute’ this well. O hai Chris Hansen…

First impressions are that this is a JRPG on rails, baby. Seriously, if all JRPG’s are linear, this is super duper crazy ass, straight line A to B linear. It’s ridiculous, in fact, just how utterly brain dead, dumbed down and simplified the ‘exploration’ side of this game is. It is, quite literally, a series of hallways. You walk down them, bump into mobs and cut to a battle. Repeat, quite nauseatingly, until you hit a boss or a cutscene. Boy are there a lot of cutscenes. Like, really. A lot.

It’s quite strange, though. I’m not terribly perturbed by this. It’s kinda like I knew I was going to the shoe shop to buy some expensive but practically useless shoes, and that’s what I got. Utterly worthless but oh so pretty shoes. The game is a sight to behold. Cutscenes are lavish, graphics are all sparkly and littered with ooh, aah moments. It’s clear this isn’t so much a game as a sightseeing trip.

Fortunately, combat picks up after a few hours as you’re introduced to more advanced elements and that’s where what depth exists in this game begins to surface. Along with the crystogenesis character advancemenent. See, this game’s tutorial’s pace is pretty slow, so the first couple hours will only scratch the surface. I was literally five or six hours in before game showed me how to ‘level up’ a character. And once I started manually queueing attacks and switching battle tactics on the fly, combat suddenly became quite frantic and enjoyable indeed.

Our intrepid hero, Lightning, doing Lightning-ey things. She does this a lot.

I’ve still got a long way to go before I can really say whether this Final Fantasy breaks the mould or not. It seems like a regular JRPG, but there doesn’t seem to be any ‘grinding’, there seem to be no sidequests. It looks like Square is trying to do to the JRPG genre what Bioware did with Mass Effect 2 and WRPG’s (Western RPG’s), which is a pretty big gamble considering WRPG’s could certainly use a little bit of the heavyweight numberingcrunching and onerous weight removed, but these have never really been problem in JRPG’s in the first place. Still, streamlining away some of the back and forth tedium is a welcome change. It’s a little early to say if they’ve succeeded or not. There’s a ton of stuff I still need to see, to judge whether or not they’ve managed. But I’ll say this much, this is an easy game to get into, it’s beautiful to behold and fighting looks pretty fun. The problems I can forsee developing are: pretty 2 dimensional and annoying as hell characters, a bit of a plodding pace, a storyline that seems pretty obscure (you NEED to read the data logs to have any idea of what the hell’s going on (ie TL;DR issues), where I’ve always believed that walls of text should support the storyline rather than be outright necessary in order to understand it) and, well, something of a disconnected feel to it all.

I’ve always been a huge FF7 fan, and it was because the game somehow managed to pull me in immediately. I find myself having to work to like FF13. Opinions on this game seem justifiably divided, some hating it, some loving it. I guess time will tell which camp I fall into.

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Blue Girls = Profit?

So I’ve noticed a trend. If your movie or game has blue alien girls in it, you will make a zillion dollars.

Cases in point:

The Na’Vi

The most recent massive scifi smash hit, Avatar, pretty much revolves around blue girls. Oh, there’s blue guys too, but no-one really cares about them. It’s all about Neytiri getting all jiggy with some paralyzed human. Lucky bastard.

Twi’Lek’s

While the Twi’Lek of the Star Wars film may not have had much screen time, they certainly did make an impact. The Twi Lek slave girls from Return of the Jedi have spawned an Internet subculture of blue alien girl fetishists that persists to this day.

Asari

Mass Effect gained notoriety for it’s portrayal of human-on-blue-alien sex, and certainly became one of the most popular and best selling console RPG’s ever. The Asari of the Mass Effect universe are unashamedly ‘slutty’ – walk into any spacer bar/club and you’ll likely see a couple of them shaking their violet derriere’s. Bioware was even smart enough to do away with the whole male gender thing, and made asari a unisex race.  Yep, that’s right. No blue dudes to compete with. Absolute genius on Bioware’s part. A galaxy full of delicious blue babes to delectate over?  Sign me, and about a billion other gamers worldwide, up.

Draenei

And last but certainly not least,  our favourite MMO has our favourite blue girls, the Draenei. Draenei females are hailed by the entire WoW population as the sexiest, sluttiest beings in all of Azeroth. Oh, sure, Blood Elf chicks are pretty hot and have all the right moves, and Night Elves are also kinda blue..well… purple, and are probably responsible for the whole naked-stripper-on-a-mailbox thing. But the award for hottest blue girl has to go to the Draenei ladies.

If there’s a lesson to be learnt here, it’s that massive, blockbusting success is as easy as injecting your very own blue alien race of skanky hoes into your movie or game.

Crazy? Perhaps. Or perhaps there’s some psychology at play here that I can’t quite fathom. Either way I, for one, certainly cannot object to more blue girls. Kirk would be so proud of us.

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Why is it that, in the future, all the aliens you meet inevitably speak fluent English?

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It’s been a while since I’ve set foot in the world of Warhamemr Online. I’d say, probably around 9 months now. I’d been reading about some of the new features and been meaning to use the Endless Free Trial to have a look at Warhammer to try and gauge if things have improved. Short version, yes and no. Being limited to Tier 1 means not really being able to judge if the issues with the endgame have been fixed. But I’ll say this much – Tier 1 was very active when I logged in over the weekend and rolled a new Chaos Marauder. Does that same activity exist beyond Tier 1, though?

Things I like : Lots of newbies were playing in the starter area, the place was literally teeming with them. Chat was also very active, even if it was the equivalent of Barrens chat. The new tutorials are very friendly and I can see them being very useful to any new player. Server lag seemed to be nonexistant, and the new post-processing option in the graphics panel makes the game look quite a bit more vibrant and colourful.

Things I don’t like : It’s still not quite Warhammer. Mythic’s interpretation of the Warhammer Intellectual Property still feels… off. It doesn’t feel like a Games Workshop product. There’s something that I can’t quite put my finger on that simply doesn’t ‘gel’. Relic nailed the IP with its Dawn of War W40K RTS games, but that same feeling of ‘chunkiness’, that same cool factor, that same stylization simply does not exist in W:AR. Some animations still feel clunky although the quality overall seems good. The world still feels like it was pieced together out of lego blocks instead of hand-carved, and the PVE is still very, very much kill ten rats. K10R is fine but a few developers out there are learning ways to disguise it, and Mythic simply doesn’t do that very well. The quest-grinding feels like they went more for quantity than quality. There’s that word again. ‘Feel’. I think that word epitomises what’s wrong with everything.  Something about this game makes me simply skip right past any quest text that pops up. Something about it brings out the apathy in me.  All in all, I still can’t find myself caring about this world, and I think that’s this game’s biggest problem. Lastly, for some reason it took more than 15 minutes for a scenario to pop, during primetime, which is weird. RvR and Scenarios are probably this game’s high points and if scenarios aren’t popping quickly, half the reason to play disappears.

I think, though, that all in all, the game’s at a better place than it was 9 months ago. But also that it needs to do something radical within this year if it’s to survive. It has to do something to make me want to play. And no, more walls of ToK spam is not it. After about an hour of trudging around doing incredibly boring PvE, I simply could stand no more and logged back into WoW. Warhammer has to do something to pull people like me into it’s world, to make people like me give a toss about progressing through it, and more than ever before I believe that PvP and RvR, even if nearly perfected, is not that way. If they focus on these aspects, I believe this title is doomed to remain a very small niche game.

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Well, looks like Christmas is just about here, and the New Year just around the bend. I’m going to be spending it watching Avatar (again) and 2012. IMO, tradition is for the birds, but if that’s your thing, do it with all your heart.

Happy holidays.

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WAR, the next Tabula Rasa?

Well, the news hit the fan yesterday so to speak, with word of Mythic losing 80 personnel, around 40% of it’s staff, to layoffs courteousy of EA aka The Great Satan. Word in the grapevine is that this compromises a large chunk of people responsible for content, and that the RvR MMORPG is going into ‘maintenance mode’.

I believe this is a death knell for the game. An MMORPG without constant injections of new content is an MMORPG that is effectively a Dead Man Walking. The reality is that most of WAR’s subscribers are already bored of the existing content. What the game needed now, as soon as the major bugs and issues got fixed – which they were – was an expansion. A third playable faction (Skaven or something), the readdition of the missing capitals, and an overhaul of the PVE (more Gunbads and Lost Vales, a lot more) to bring it in line or at least close to something like WoW or LotrO.

But that won’t happen now. With Mythic losing effectively almost half of it’s workforce, the writing’s on the wall. In fact, I expect the studio to simply be absorbed into Bioware sooner or later. Great for Bioware, bad for the rest of us still hoping to see a resurgence of WAR.

I guess it looks like I’ll be letting my subscription lapse once more. This time, it looks like it’ll be the last time. The final nail in the coffin.

GG EA, what we really need, after all, is more Madden. Amirite?

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